How to Play Mahjong: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide

How to Play Mahjong: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide. Learn how to play Mahjong with this comprehensive beginner’s guide. From the basic rules to scoring and winning strategies, discover everything you need to know about this popular tile-based game. Explore the various variations of Mahjong and gain insights into the etiquette and culture surrounding the game. Find valuable resources and further learning opportunities to enhance your Mahjong skills. Get ready to dive into the world of Mahjong and embark on an exciting journey of strategy, skill, and enjoyment.

Introduction of How to Play Mahjong

Mahjong is a traditional Chinese game that originated in the Qing Dynasty. It is played with a set of 144 tiles, each featuring different symbols and characters. The game is typically played by four players and involves skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. Mahjong has gained popularity worldwide and has evolved into various regional variations, each with its own set of rules and nuances.

The purpose of this comprehensive beginner’s guide is to provide you with a step-by-step understanding of how to play Mahjong. Whether you’re completely new to the game or have some basic knowledge, this guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to enjoy and excel at Mahjong. From the fundamental rules to advanced strategies, you’ll find all the information you need to become a competent Mahjong player.

Basic Rules

A. Objective of the Game

The objective of Mahjong is to build sets of tiles and create a complete hand. The player who declares “Mahjong” first by forming a winning hand wins the round. The game consists of multiple rounds, and the ultimate goal is to accumulate the highest score.

B. Mahjong Tiles

A Mahjong set consists of 144 tiles, which can be divided into three main categories: suits, honors, and flowers. The suits are divided into three types: circles, bamboo, and characters. The honors include winds and dragons. The flowers are bonus tiles that have special functions in the game.

C. Setting Up the Game

To set up the game, the tiles are shuffled and arranged in a square pattern known as “the Great Wall.” The players then take turns rolling dice to determine the starting point on the wall to break and start dealing the tiles.

D. Determining the Dealer

The player who rolls the highest number on the dice becomes the dealer. The dealer’s role is significant as they have certain privileges and responsibilities throughout the game.


A. Dealing the Tiles

After the dealer is determined, the tiles are distributed clockwise, with each player receiving 13 tiles. The dealer starts by taking an extra tile, resulting in 14 tiles for them.

B. Understanding the Turn Order

The turn order in Mahjong follows a counter-clockwise direction, starting from the dealer. Each player takes turns drawing and discarding tiles, with the goal of forming complete sets.

C. Taking Turns

On their turn, a player can choose to draw a tile from the wall or claim a tile discarded by another player. After drawing a tile, the player must then discard one tile from their hand, placing it face-up in the center of the table.

D. Drawing and Discarding Tiles

The drawing and discarding process continues until a player forms a winning hand or until all the tiles are exhausted. It’s important to strategically select which tiles to discard while paying attention to the tiles being discarded by other players.

E. Calling and Declaring Tiles

During the game, players have the opportunity to call or declare certain tile combinations to form sets. This includes declaring a Pung, Kong, or Chow when the corresponding tiles are available. Calling tiles from other players can also be done to complete sets.

Building Sets

A. Identifying Sets

In Mahjong, sets are formed by combining tiles according to specific patterns. There are three main types of sets: Pung, Kong, and Chow. A Pung consists of three identical tiles, a Kong consists of four identical tiles, and a Chow consists of three consecutive tiles from the same suit.

B. Pung, Kong, and Chow

To form a Pung, a player must have two identical tiles in their hand and call for the third tile when it is discarded by another player. A Kong is formed in a similar manner, but with four identical tiles. A Chow is formed by having the necessary consecutive tiles in the hand.

C. Special Tiles and Sets

In addition to the basic sets, there are special tiles and sets that provide additional scoring opportunities. These include the Flowers, Seasons, and special combinations like the Seven Pairs and the Thirteen Orphans.


A. Basic Scoring Principles

Scoring in Mahjong involves calculating points based on the value of the winning hand and various scoring elements. Each tile has a certain point value, and different sets and combinations contribute to the final score.

B. Scoring Hands

There are numerous scoring combinations and hands in Mahjong, each with its own point value. Some common scoring hands include the All Pungs, All Chows, and Mixed Triple Chows.

C. Bonus Points

In addition to the basic scoring principles, there are various bonus points that can be earned during gameplay. These include Flower and Season bonus points, as well as specific combinations that result in extra points.

Winning the Game

A. Declaring Mahjong

To win a round of Mahjong, a player must declare “Mahjong” by forming a complete and valid hand. This means having four sets and a pair or a specific special combination, depending on the variation being played.

B. Settle Scores

After a player declares Mahjong, the scores are settled based on the value of the winning hand and any bonus points earned during the game. The player who won the round receives points from the other players, while the losers deduct points from their own scores.

Strategy Tips

A. Tile Reading and Discard Tracking

One essential strategy in Mahjong is tile reading, which involves observing the tiles being discarded by other players and deducing the possible combinations in their hands. Discard tracking helps in determining which tiles are safe to discard and which might be useful to other players.

B. Choosing the Right Tiles to Keep or Discard

Strategic tile management is crucial in Mahjong. Players must carefully decide which tiles to keep and which to discard based on their hand composition, the potential combinations they can form, and the tiles being discarded by others.

C. Common Winning Strategies

There are several common winning strategies in Mahjong, such as focusing on specific combinations, keeping a flexible hand, and paying attention to the opponent’s moves. Adapting and adjusting strategies based on the flow of the game is key to success.

Etiquette and Mahjong Culture

A. Game Etiquette

Mahjong has its own set of etiquettes and customs that players should adhere to. This includes maintaining proper table manners, refraining from cheating or collusion, and respecting the decisions and turns of other players.

B. Superstitions and Rituals

Mahjong is steeped in tradition and superstition. Players often follow rituals and beliefs to bring good luck and enhance their gameplay. This may include practices like shuffling tiles in a specific manner or observing auspicious dates and times for playing.

Variations of Mahjong

A. Chinese Classical Mahjong

Chinese Classical Mahjong is the original and most traditional form of the game. It follows specific rules and scoring systems and is widely played in China and other Asian countries.

B. Riichi Mahjong

Riichi Mahjong is a popular variation primarily played in Japan. It has its own set of rules and scoring elements, including the concept of “riichi” or reaching, which adds an extra layer of strategy to the game.

C. American Mahjong

American Mahjong is a variation that has adapted and evolved over time in the United States. It incorporates elements from Chinese and other regional variations, creating a unique set of rules and gameplay.

Resources and Further Learning

A. Books and Online Tutorials

There are numerous books and online tutorials available that provide in-depth knowledge and strategies for playing Mahjong. These resources can help beginners learn the basics and assist more experienced players in enhancing their skills.

B. Mahjong Websites and Apps

Several websites and mobile applications are dedicated to Mahjong. These platforms offer opportunities to play online, learn from tutorials, and connect with other Mahjong enthusiasts from around the world.

C. Joining Mahjong Clubs and Communities

Joining local Mahjong clubs or online communities can be a great way to improve your skills, engage in friendly competitions, and share experiences with fellow players. These communities often organize events and provide a platform for players to connect and learn from one another.

Conclusion of How to Play Mahjong

In conclusion, Mahjong is a captivating game that combines skill, strategy, and a touch of luck. By following this comprehensive beginner’s guide, you now have the necessary knowledge to start playing Mahjong and embark on an exciting journey into the world of tile-based games. Remember to practice, be observant of the tiles and moves of other players, and adapt your strategies accordingly. With time and experience, you’ll become a seasoned Mahjong player, capable of enjoying the rich cultural heritage and camaraderie that the game brings.